What are we allowed to say when a prospective employer calls our
office for a reference for one of our ex-employees who was dismissed
This question certainly raises a dilemma, and in today's litigious society,
one to carefully think through. According to the Arizona Industrial
Commission and Labor Board, no laws govern this issue in our state.
Following basic guidelines will help one decide how to disclose information
about former employees and avoid litigation.
An employer may fear that if any negative statements are made one could
be sued for libel (written) or slander (spoken). It is best to stick
with the facts and lay aside personal feelings. Basic information that
may be disclosed would be dates of employment, job title and description,
rates of pay both at the beginning and end of employment, and if the
employee resigned or was terminated.
In order to avoid defamation, a former employee must prove that information
given out was false and that the information harmed his or her reputation.
Proving the information given was true dismisses these types of lawsuits.
For example, disclosing disciplinary action taken during the employment
period is justified provided that documentation signed by the ex-employee
is on record. Make sure personnel files reflect fairness, objectivity
and honesty; free of unproven gossip.
My recommendation is to speak only to the doctor, or the owner of the
practice. Ultimately, these people are responsible for hiring, training,
reviewing performance, and dismissing employees.
It also pays to be discrete while attending informal gatherings. Don't
speak freely at a meeting or other functions where social and/or business
chatter may take place. Among colleagues and employees, disclose the
reasons for firing strictly on a need-to-know basis. Limit the announcements
to, "Sally has left the practice and we're seeking a replacement."
Either 'speak well of the dead', or say nothing at all. For example,
if one believes nothing positive can be said of a former employee, simply
state that it is the policy of the practice not to comment on former
employees with prospective employers. Airing grievances about someone
will likely spread, potentially causing legal complications.
The "Crown Jewel" of all questions that will tell a person
most all they need to know about a former or prospective employee is,
"Given the opportunity, would you hire the employee again?"
A "yes" or "no" answer speaks volumes. Take it from